Maybe you’ve set an ambitious-but-achievable fitness goal for the year ahead, or you’re coming back from an injury that sidelined you for a few months (or years), or maybe you’re seeing great progress with food tracking and want to add exercise into your healthy lifestyle mix.
Whatever gets you started down a new fitness path, it’s a fresh opportunity to move. But what’s better for getting some traction: home-based workouts or joining a gym?
It’s a bit of a trick question because what’s “better” can vary depending on factors like your comfort level around others, what motivates you and even your current financial situation. That’s why it’s a good idea to take some time to compare your options and make sure you’re choosing the best fit for you.
“If you’re new to fitness or coming back after some time away, it can feel overwhelming to have so much choice,” says Aaron Leventhal, certified strength and conditioning specialist, trainer and owner of Minneapolis-based Fit Studio. “Before you sign up at a gym or pay for a streaming workout site, weigh the pros and cons of each, so you don’t end up paying for something you don’t use.”
Let’s take a look at the advantages and drawbacks of each:
Especially at the beginning of the year, gyms can have some very attractive options when it comes to membership deals — but even then, streaming workout sites tend to be the more affordable choice, as long as you use them regularly. That can also be an incentive to work out more often since you can continue to lower the per-class cost compared to the fixed expense of a gym.
There may be some expense when it comes to outfitting your home gym with equipment like weights and resistance bands, but this is usually modest unless you’re going for a bigger option like a treadmill.
If you want the widest variety of equipment — including items for functional fitness like kettlebells and medicine balls — it’s tough to beat a gym. That’s particularly true for cardio options like an elliptical, rowing machine and treadmill. If any of those are a driving force for your decision-making, be sure to compare gyms based on the availability of those options — and go during busy times to see how much the equipment is used.
Walking into a new gym can feel intimidating for anyone, Leventhal says, and if you haven’t exercised in a while or you’re self-conscious about your appearance, it can be even tougher. That’s why starting your fitness journey at home can get you a bit more up to speed and feeling comfortable before you head into a gym environment, he says.
“Especially for beginners, comfort is key,” says Leventhal. “There are a lot of roadblocks to exercise when you’re just starting out, and feeling self-conscious can be a huge one. Many times, it feels safer and less threatening to work out at home, so you can build a level of confidence that makes it easier to join a gym.”
When you are ready to bring that new confidence to the gym, what you may find is that being around fellow exercisers can give you more motivation and engagement. Not sure if a gym has the vibe you want? Spend some time looking through their social media, suggests trainer Ali Greenman, founder of Final Straw Fitness.
“Look for places that treat members like family and friends,” she says. “Pay attention to what they post, and more than that, how their members interact with each other. You can often find a good fit that way.”
Spending time at the gym isn’t just about fitting a workout into your schedule, it’s also about travel time, traffic, parking and transition time. If your schedule is already very tight and you feel like it would be overwhelming to block out exercise time, home workouts may be a better option.
That’s especially true if you put travel in the mix. Most streaming workout sites now allow you to stream to multiple devices, so you can set up your smartphone in your hotel room and still be part of a boot camp class.
If you’re someone who easily puts off workouts to clean the house, answer emails, scroll through social media, run errands or do literally any other task to avoid exercise, it may be tougher to get started at home. Leventhal says. If one of your other resolutions this year is to stop procrastinating, it’s likely a gym-based routine could be better for you.
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Although there are some situations where you’ll prefer a gym instead of working out at home — and vice versa — it can be especially effective to combine them and get the best of both.
For example, go to the gym a couple of days per week for the social interaction, motivation, certain classes, and cardio and strength equipment, while making home workouts your standard for schedule convenience, comfort and consistency.
“All movement is good movement,” says Leventhal. “The key is to find whichever place makes you look forward to working out and feeling like you want to keep progressing.”